(Editor's note: This concludes the series of articles that examined the early years of the 20th Century. Our purpose was to provide a comparison of the years from 1900 to 2000. Now enjoy the 21st Century!|
The author, Connie Williams, is doing graduate work in history at St. Cloud State University and has worked at the Paynesville Area Museum for several summers.
Of all childhood memories, the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas are the most vivid and remembered the most fondly.
People might not have been rich in money or material things in the early part of the 20th Century, but they were rich in community spirit, love, and faith.
Years ago, the Christmas tree was cut in the woods and brought to the house. The tree at Viola Nelson Driste's childhood home was decorated with long strings of tinsel and popcorn. She and her five brothers also made colored paper chains for the tree.
Opal Mickelson and her sister used to cut out two little paper girls, paste them on cardboard, and place them on the tree. On Christmas Eve, her father would put real candles on the tree. These were only lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Not everyone had the traditional pine tree for Christmas. Karen Snyder's mother put up a miniature orange tree in the bay window. On Christmas Eve, each child got to pick an orange off the tree.
Mother prepared many mouth-watering delights at Christmas time. Pies, cakes, and candy were the order of the day. The smells of ginger, anise, nutmeg, and cloves permeated kitchens, if not whole houses.
Gertrude Jacobson's mother made fudge and taffy. Gertrude helped pull the taffy. Her mother dropped bits of it into cold water to see if it was ready. Then Gertrude got the joy of "testing" the little drops.
Norwegian holiday treats included lefsa, spritz cookies, and flat bread.
Many families of German descent would have roast goose with apple stuffing and all the trimmings for a Christmas meal. Arlyss Rien's father had to have his cranberries, or he "couldn't live."
Myrtle Hagen's family always had oysters on Christmas Eve. Her family continues this tradition to this day, and she still looks forward to it.
Programs, the events of the year, were held at church and at school. Children sang, and their parents beamed. Children might receive a treat bag with an apple, peanuts, and candy after a Sunday school program.
Gertrude Jacobson once recited this poem at the Christmas program in her one-room schoolhouse.
"I saved my cake for Santa Claus "One Christmas Eve at tea "If riding makes one hungry "How hungry he must be. "I put it on the chimney shelf where he'd be sure to see "And later on I tiptoed into Mamma's room to see "If Santa Claus had been there yet "And there sat a naughty little mouse eating Santa's treat."
When the candles were lit on the tree on Christmas Eve, each child would stand by the tree and perform or recite something that had to do with the real Christmas story, recalled Opal Mickelson.
Her family always fixed a snack cocoa, cake and pumpkin pie for Santa Claus and left it on the piano stool. The kids went to bed early, and the house was so cold that her mother would wrap a hot griddle and put it in bed with the kids.
They heard Santa on the roofŠor thought they could.
In the morning, they could see their breath in the room, Opal continued. Jack Frost left beautiful designs on the single-pane windows. Her father would take a hot flat iron and hold it inches away from the window, until he could look out and see the barn through a small, melted spot.
The stove provided warmth, and the first child to get dressed and come downstairs received a penny from her father.
Most people were so poor in those days that many Christmas presents were homemade. Fathers were skilled enough to make skiis, whistles, stilts, and fishing poles. A girl would be lucky to get a doll with a porcelain face, and a boy lucky to get clamp-on skates or a toboggan.
The presents were typically wrapped in brown paper with white string.
One of Viola Driste's most precious gifts was a dollhouse her mother made by using a cardboard box covered with wallpaper. Her mother made little curtains and braided a little rug. Pictures of furniture cut out from the Sears and Roebuck catalog were pasted on little boxes to make furniture. Viola had paper dolls to go with the dollhouse.
Each year, Viola added, "I and my dolly would get a new dress for Christmas. Dolly a dress and bonnet, and I a pretty dress all handmade by mother for our school and church programs."
The homemade presents were kept in a pickle barrel at Opal Mickelson's house. She said the kids didn't dare look in the barrel, but they could just lift the lid a little bit to drop presents inside. The barrel was set in the corner of the parlor to keep the presents until Christmas Eve.
One year Arlyss Rien really wanted skates for Christmas, but money was so tight that she didn't dare ask for them. Under the tree, the box looked as though it could contain her coveted skates. Sure enough, it did. Arlyss still doesn't know how her parents got the $2.80 to buy them!
To church by sled
People went to church on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In those days, the primary mode of transportation was horse and sleigh. Horses wore sleigh bells.
As the youngest in her family, Viola Driste got to hold the heated bricks to keep her warm on the way to church. Arlyss Rien's family had a car, which they used for the last time each winter on Christmas Eve. After that, the car was put on blocks until spring. Since there were no snowplows to open the road, her family used a sleigh for the rest of the winter.
Between Christmas and New Year's, the Norwegian community would traditionally do Yula-Boukin, which means Christmas fooling. People would dress up in silly ways, such as putting their coats on backwards or wearing silk stockings. They would go around to their neighbors' houses and sing and dance.
Karen Snyder's uncle played the fiddle, and neighbors would treat them to hot cocoa. Then the people of the house would join their visitors in going to the next house.
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